Situated in the southern coast, Bhola is the biggest island in Bangladesh. It is about 120 kilometre from North to South and around 25 kilometre from East to West.
The natural gas reserve of the island has turned it important in two ways. First, it is the only place in Bangladesh where a portion the population has been using gas free of cost for the last forty years for domestic and commercial purposes, as it is coming out automatically from the shallow underground level of the earth. Secondly, Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company Limited (Bapex) has found two deep commercial gas fields in Bhola island, having significant amount of natural gas in its reserve.
Through its geological analysis, Bapex confirmed that further gas can be discovered if wells are drilled in some other identified structures in Bhola.
Geologists think that Bhola Island has high probability of becoming another rich source of natural gas like Sylhet.
Bapex should take strong initiative to explore gas in this area. Besides, in the backdrop of countrywide gas crisis, Bapex should immediately start developing the newly discovered fields to produce and supply gas to the national grid.
The task of extracting natural gas is easier than finding it. Therefore Bapex is undoubtedly equipped in developing gas in Bhola. But from the current position of the authorities it seems that foreign companies are going to be appointed for the task. Thus giving rise to questions as to why Bapex is not taking up the responsibility?
Experts said, the natural gas in Bhola has been formed in different processes and environments. These are shallow level and deep level natural gas, which are not inter-connected.
Bhola residents are familiar with shallow gas for a long time and some of the families have been using the gas coming out naturally from the ground for years. This shallow gas exists only 250 metre deep from the surface of the earth and usually comes out of tube wells and waterbodies.
Geologists termed it biogenic or bio gas. The reserve of this gas is small, it flows at low pressure and in small quantities. It is available for comparatively short time and is not used commercially. The residents of
Bhola have been using this gas for domestic purposes free of cost.
On the other hand, the big gas reserve in Bhola Island were found about 2500 to 3500 metres deep under the ground. It is known as thermogenic gas and created commercial gas fields.
Bapex discovered the first gas field in Shahbazpur of Bhola Island in 1995. Five layers were found in the depth in the earth. The discovery was important as it saved the well from being destroyed by the impact of heavy pressure of gas.
In the history of gas exploration in Bangladesh it has been proved that in many areas high pressure exists in rock layers of the earth's underground. In geological terminology it is known as the overpressure zone.
Many times this high pressure comes to the surface uncontrollably and destroys drilled wells and associated drilling structures, a process known as blow out.
In 1997, a gas blow out occurred in Magurchhara well in Sylhet, drilled by US oil company Unocal, causing huge amount of gas to be lost.
Canadian oil company Niko in 2005 caused a similar blow out in its Tengratila gas well in Chhatak, causing huge damages to the resources and environment.
Preventing gas blow outs and keeping the wells danger-free requires efficiency. Bapex's discovery and handling of the Shahbazpur gas field is a praiseworthy work in this regard.
Bapex discovered the second gas field in Bhola Island in 2017. It was named Bhola North and this is situated in the northen side of the island, 35 kilometres away from the first field.
In the 3-D seismic survey conducted by Bapex in Bhola, some more geological structures were identified, with bright prospects of discovering a new gas field.
In this situation it is urgent to engage Bapex in a long-term plan to extract gas from the discovered fields and also drill new wells for discovering new fields.
But the reality is different. It has been learnt that the process of appointing foreign company for gas extraction and exploration is at the final stage.
If Bapex extracted and explored in the fields it would have been cost-effective and institutionally encouraging. It would also be helpful for increasing experience and efficiency of its workers.
On the other hand if foreign companies are engaged for the task, that will be more costly (in some cases per well cost will be twice as much as Bapex). It would stand on the way to national self-reliance and not allowing the national company do its own work).
Bapex is capable of drilling three to four wells annually. Currently it is drilling an exploration well at Sreekail in Cumilla district. It completed drilling a well at Kasba in Cumilla in 2018, which has been standing unused for over a year.
Bapex has the necessary manpower and financial capacity to drill the new well in Bhola. There is no reason why Bapex is not being used to develop its own gas fields.
However, Bapex also has some limitations. In some cases, evidences of mismanagement were found. However, a total discovery of eight gas fields, production and supply of 10 crore cubic feet gas per day to the national grid testifies for the contributions of Bapex in the national economy.
The two new fields contain 2 tcf of gas. In 1998, US company Unocal submitted a long term proposal to the government for gas and power development in the south-western region of the country, based on the bright prospects of finding gas in Bhola. This was known as Western Regional Integrated Project. However, the proposal did not see light as mass people did not want to give the local fields to foreign companies.
Since then, many local and foreign quarters set their eyes on Bhola. Geologists say this capacity of attracting attention by Bhola happened as the island and its adjacent areas have bright prospects of having a gas ring. In that case intensive exploration may turn Bhola into another gas-rich basin like Sylhet. It requires liberal patronisation by the government and the ministry concerned.
Bangladesh has recently started importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from abroad at a high price due to acute gas crisis in the country. If local gas is not available the dependence on LNG will increase further.
As a result gas price at consumer level will go up. Not only that it will have a long term extra pressure on the economy. People demand emergency steps should be taken to realise the bright prospect of gas in Bhola island by utilising the country's own capabilities.
Dr Badrul Imam is professor of Geology at the University of Dhaka, and an energy expert